Right gains in Austria's paradoxical election result

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By Walter Baier

October 2, 2013 -- Transform! -- The outcome of the September 29, 2013, Austrian parliamentary elections must seem paradoxical all across Europe.

Despite the – by comparison – favourable economic data, the ruling “Great Coalition” of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and conservative Peoples Party (ÖVP) was punished. Its share of the votes fell back from 55 per cent to less than 51. The SPÖ at 27 per cent remained the largest party, however is now sitting in a parliament with four right-wing parties, which hold 108 out of 183 seats altogether.

The German-nationalist, racist Freedom Party (FPÖ) scored better than expected at 20.6 (+3.0%) per cent. It managed to retrieve the majority of the votes it had lost after 2005 lost to the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), which had been founded by Jörg Haider. In Styria, however, the FPÖ topped the poll to become the party with the most votes, spectacularly gaining from the electorate of both the ÖVP and SPÖ. Notably among workers and employees, the FPÖ replaced the SPÖ as the strongest party.

At 12.3%, the Greens remained below expectations. The losses they suffered in Vienna had less to do with local political blunders of the Red-Green city government but was rather related to the emergence of a new party, the NEOS. With “Frank” (5.7%), a party sponsored by a Canadian billionaire, and NEOS (4.9%), a party-split-off of the ÖVP, subsidised by another billionaire, two new right-wing parties with a neoliberal agenda will make it into parliament. In Vienna, where the NEOS reached 7.6%, it mobilised voters from both the ÖVP and the Greens.

As the only declared left party that stood for election, the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ) gained voters and reached 1 per cent (1.7% Vienna, Styria 1.8%). Where the KPÖ is anchored on the communal level, the results lie between 2.5% and 4%. The Pirate Party scored 0.8 %. The problem of creating a wider political platform of the left, which the KPÖ is calling for, remains still unsolved.

Although the election results allow for the continuation of the Great Coalition, the formation of the government could prove rather difficult. In contrast to the SPÖ, the ÖVP is not as determined about the continuation of the coalition due to being pressured by both the right on the part of the Freedom Party, as well as the centre, by the NEOS. Nevertheless, the influential centres of the ÖVP assess the experiment of a right-wing government, including the Freedom Party and one of the new parties, as too risky.

But it is possible for the ÖVP to try to take advantage of the increased parliamentary weight of the rightist fractions in the negotiations with the Social Democrats, and it could possibly also urge the participation of one of the new right-wing parties in the government. How far the SPÖ can give in to this pressure is yet unclear. Conversely, the Social Democrats could push for the inclusion of the Greens in a coalition with the ÖVP.

On September 29 Austrians voted paradoxically, indeed. They expressed their dissatisfaction with the neoliberal policy of the coalition by strengthening of neoliberal parties, and will therefore get even more neoliberal policies. The German-nationalist, racist Freedom Party at 20.6% is lying in wait.